As a crisis unfolds, the way leaders talk with the public matters. Employees, customers, partners, investors and community members rely on information they receive to understand the context surrounding a developing situation and to make decisions about what they should do in response.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, the impact it's having on communities and the world economy is vast, varied and quickly evolving. As new cases emerge in the U.S. and around the globe, businesses are feeling a strain on productivity, supply chains, profitability and, of course, their people.
Communicating your company’s COVID-19 preparedness and response plan to internal and external stakeholders is critical, first and foremost, to ensuring the health and safety of your personnel, customers, and other stakeholders. Thoughtful communication can also ensure business continuity in the days and weeks ahead and minimize the near- and long-term financial and reputational impact of the virus on your business.
Following communications best practices can ultimately:
- Prevent and minimize the spread of the virus
- Clarify information and prevent the spread of misinformation
- Reduce fear and instill confidence in our collective ability to persevere
- Mitigate business risks and protect corporate reputations
Share science-based best practices for disease prevention.
Stakeholders want to follow guidance from qualified medical organizations that they can trust.
- Share personal hygiene best practices from the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide consistent messaging about handwashing, social distancing and other verified methods of prevention.
- Implement and communicate coordinated company-wide personal and communal hygiene best practices for your workforce to uphold (i.e. a no-handshake policy).
- Share decision-making criteria your management team will follow if individuals in communities where you operate become sick and you are forced to engage your business continuity plan.
- Help “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus outbreak through travel bans and use of virtual meeting and communications strategies.
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Understand your risks.
Ensure your management team fully understands how the virus is affecting your business operations and communicate this assessment as appropriate to your stakeholders.
- Conduct a risk assessment that accounts for probable scenarios across internal and external stakeholders as well as the numerous functional areas of your business and supply chain.
- Rank risks by probability and scale of impact to prioritize your mitigation efforts.
- Communicate the initiatives your company is pursuing, providing clear information on timelines for implementation and the benefits to your employees and other stakeholders.
- Consider the impact of supply chain disruption on your own operations, in the case that your goods and services providers are unable to conduct business with you on time and at scale; determine if and when you may need to evaluate alternative suppliers and logistics routes.
- Ask how you would respond to a period of reduced consumer demand – would you scale back your operations/manufacturing? Reduce prices? Delay product launches?
- Understand falling stock price variables and be prepared to communicate transparently about adjusted guidance, if appropriate.
Implement a business continuity plan.
Focus on your employees’ ability to continue to work and set them up for success wherever possible with the tools, technologies and resources they need to work remotely for extended periods of time.
- Ensure employees have access to laptops, secure internet connections, email, virtual collaboration and meeting platforms, and mobile phones with text support.
- Share company policies and available resources for childcare support in the event of school closings, including flexible work hours or shifts if children are home during working hours.
- For non-remote workforces, account for additional shifts to accommodate cleaning needs when onsite, provide protective gear and hygiene supplies, and share the criteria management is using to decide when it may be appropriate to close facilities.
Set the tone.
Stakeholders want to know that leadership is committed to the health and safety of its employees, taking the COVID-19 virus seriously, maintaining a balanced position that isn’t sensationalized, and evaluating the possible, probable and inevitable risks to your business.
- Communicate early and often about what you know, sharing business continuity plans, guidance on what to do when, and resources for employees.
- Connect with your stakeholders on the channels they use most, creating a coordinated communications platform across your website, social media channels, intranet, email, text and the media, if appropriate, to ensure all stakeholders are receiving your guidance.
- Control the narrative to ensure that your workforce understands how to operate as optimally as possible and to enable customers and supply chain partners to continue working with you.
- Be transparent about any impacts you’re experiencing, to set expectations for investors about financial and operational risks and impacts, including contingency plans.
- Reduce fear and instill hope by sharing what you’re doing to stay on top of the situation and that you’re committed to doing everything possible to minimize disruption.
With cases on the rise daily and new mitigation tactics underway across the globe, it is imperative to be nimble and prepared for all possible outcomes. Stakeholders need to know that their relationship with your company can withstand this global crisis, which requires cadenced, controlled and transparent communications. Reinforce that management is pivoting, not panicking to ensure business continuity and the health and well-being of its people and business.